Côte d'Ivoire and an end to the crisis: elections with a doubly uncertain result

Rafael Grasa
ICIP President
Rafael Grasa

Rafael Grasa

A few years ago, a French economist, Serge C. Kolm, wrote an excellent book with the thought-provoking title of Elections are not democracy, in which he used Dahl's theory of polyarchy to argue that the mere existence of free and regular elections was no guarantee of the existence of democracy, even in a limited definition of the term. I think he was right in many cases: elections and alternating in power are at least a potential situation for finding a way out of a crisis and beginning a process for the transformation of the conflict, and therefore of the social relations between people and social groups. Furthermore, in the case of Africa, this central role of elections is even more important due to the fact that over the last decade there have been many episodes of political violence, some of which have been intense and long-lasting, which have coincided with elections. Elections are therefore not democracy, they can be decisive in achieving it or pushing it further away, at least in the case of prolonged social conflicts with recurring episodes of violence.

This was the case in the presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire, held over two rounds on 31 October and 28 November: they are (I hope I will not have to write "they were" in a few weeks time) the opportunity to end a decade of crisis, coups and states of emergency, violence, and also to confront almost two decades of deterioration in the model of the country and nation that emerged from independence. First the economic model, based on cocoa and coffee, an abundance of land and patronage relationships collapsed, after various economic crises. Afterwards, with the death of Biogny, the model of citizenship, nation and political system was destroyed, due to the great difficulty in the transition from a one-party state to a multi-party system based on fractured ethnic identities and on the partial patrimonialism of the state by one ethnic group, the Baule. This latter problem, common to much of Africa at the end of the colonial legacy, has specificities and aggravating factors in the Ivorian case, which are one of the roots of the crisis and the rebellion of 2002.

The first round of the presidential elections was exemplary, with very few incidents, a turnout of over 80% and a result that with the withdrawal of Bedié saw a run-off between president Gbagbo and the opposition leader Ouattara in the second round. The key to the results of the campaign and of the second round was the agreements with Bedié, who gave his backing to Ouattara (both had worked closely with Boigny) and above all, the ability to transfer the political agreement into real voting by the population. The major doubt was whether the Catholic Baules would vote for a Muslim Senufo, who was the paradigm of non-Ivorian identity by having a direct Burkinabè ancestor. It appeared so, with a lower turnout (of around 70%), with Ouattara obtaining 54% of the votes, albeit pending confirmation by the Constitutional Court, as Gbagbo challenged the count in various northern regions. From that point on, confusion reigned. the electoral commission, which was independent in name only, has been prevented from giving the results in the stipulated time, as some of its members (those in the president's party) failed to comply, despite the desperate attempts of the commission's president (belonging to Bedié's party). Now the issue is the responsibility of the Constitutional Court, chaired by one of Gbagbo's confidants: the verdict is due on 9 December. A week of curfew and closed frontiers and an end to the admission of foreign media (on the night of 2 December) suggest pessimism. However, the international observers were unanimous: 95% of the second round was democratic and fair.

On 2 December, an Ivorian friend told me: "Abidjan is deserted, people are texting each other all the time, there are constant rumours, the television is poisonous, they are bringing the country to its knees. Everyone is scared of a state of emergency and of the opportunity for an end to the crisis and reconstructing a beautiful country to be lost." In the words of the song by Tiken Jah Fakoly: "it is politicians and politics that ruin a country." Like me, he was worried about hopes for an end to the crisis and transformation of the conflict being dashed. At present, the initial requirements, free elections, have been partially fulfilled, but the count has not been constitutionally completed and it remains to be seen whether the results are accepted by the state bodies (the Constitutional Court) and the president's party and machine.

If they are accepted, the country can put an end to its state of emergency. It is a divided country with a state that is absent in half the territory, a population that is tired and fearful, a president and parliament with no electoral legitimacy and a whole series of problems to solve. The road will be a long one: we have to consider the legislative elections (in February) and the conditions for ending the crisis. In specific terms, according to the seminar organised by the ICIP in September, (

these conditions are reform of the security sector, agrarian reform, Ivorian nationality and identity, redeployment of the state, respect for human rights and opportunities for young people. They are serious challenges, but are achievable, bearing in mind the country's capacities and opportunities for creating a lasting "coalition of wills." The results of the elections are uncertain in two ways: who has won, and above all, whether or not this will lead to an end to the crisis.
Now, at this point in time, we are trembling before taking the first step, a condition that is necessary but not enough. What happens in the coming weeks will be vital: a window of opportunity will close or open. Everything could go very badly: there could be a resurgence of the violence of the past which may make the future impossible. A coup d'etat or another state of emergency, perhaps not very bloody, "Honduras style," is very possible. Yet if there is hope, we have to trust and fight. That is why I remembered a song by Fakoli about an Ivorian's life in Paris: at the moment, "c'est pas l'enfer, ni le paradis". Let's see.

Some extracts from the text were published in the newspaper Ara on 3 December 2010.